CHICAGO -- It's not that ex-cons haven't been elected here before. There were those tax returns that Harold Washington failed to file years ago and the 30 days he spent in the pokey as a result. That didn't stop him from becoming this city's mayor back in 1983.
But even in Chicago, the fact that five convicted felons are running for City Council in Tuesday's election -- a record number here by anyone's reckoning -- might be expected to cause at least a little stir. After all, how many political candidates can include such qualifications? Bank robber. Gang enforcer. Murder-for-hire conspirator.
And on-the-job experience: Two candidates are former City Council members who were convicted on corruption charges and now want their old jobs back.
But residents last week in Chicago's 2-degree windchill were more preoccupied with the baseball strike, wondering if their daydreams of warmer days at Wrigley Field would ever come true.
"We don't take this stuff seriously," said Terry Breuner, a former federal prosecutor who made a career of putting corrupt people behind bars. He offers a simple rationale: "We're Chicagoans."
So it goes in a city where voters often think "corrupt" and "politician" go together like "Lake" and "Michigan." In the past 25 years, nearly 20 aldermen, as council members are known here, have been sent to prison.
In South Philadelphia, Jimmy Tayoun, fresh out of prison for racketeering, is barred by Pennsylvania law from seeking his old council seat, but in Chicago, former Aldermen Tyrone Kenner and Wallace Davis, who both spent time in prison for bribery and extortion, plan comebacks.
Technically, they're not supposed to. There is a law that prevents someone convicted of a felony from holding municipal office.
The 2-year-old law seems just the thing to get the felonious five booted off the ballot. But this being Chicago, the local board of elections decided that it wouldn't enforce the law unless someone challenged a candidate.
Opponents of four of the five decided not to try.
Mr. Davis has been plotting his comeback from the back office at his Catfish Corner takeout restaurant on the city's Westside. He said voters in his ward, an area with some of the city's worst ghettos and gangs, understood his problems. He said they know he got a raw deal, that despite his conviction and four years in prison, he did nothing wrong.
Mr. Kenner is in a tight race in the Southside 3rd Ward, where Mr. Washington got his political start 40 years ago. He stands a good chance of winning back the seat he lost in 1983 after his conviction for taking $15,500 in bribes.
"If it was a problem with the people, I wouldn't be running," said Mr. Kenner, 61, a former police officer. "People have been asking me to run."
Tom Hendrix, in a Westside ward with a lot of gang activity, doesn't shrink from talking about his conviction 12 years ago for trying to hire a hit man to kill off a witness in a case involving his brother.
A former cocaine addict, he now works with youth groups and tries to get youths out of gang life.
Redemption has worked so well for Walter Burnett Jr. that he is the front-runner for the 27th Ward, an eclectic swath of the city that includes the notorious Cabrini Green housing project, Oprah Winfrey's television studios and the new United Center stadium, the site of the 1996 Democratic Convention.
Mr. Burnett, 31, has been active in politics since he got out of prison 12 years ago for armed robbery, committed when he was 17. Now an assistant to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, he has the backing of the Democratic organization in the nonpartisan election and even got the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Wallace "Gator" Bradley, a former gang enforcer running in a Southside ward, has the backing of 21st Century Vote, a political committee connected with the Gangster Disciples. The GDs are one of the city's meanest outlaw gangs, run from prison, authorities say, by Larry Hoover, now serving a 200-year sentence for murder.
After serving time for armed robbery, Mr. Bradley now loves politics in a big way. He worked the floor of the 1988 Democratic Convention for the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, visited the White House last year to talk to President Clinton about gangs and has been praised by some local leaders for peace-making among warring gangs.
The only challenge to his candidacy came because he wanted to use his nickname "Gator" on the ballot.
No problem, the board of elections ruled. After all, there's already a county commissioner known by his nickname, "Iceman."
For Chicago, that seemed only fair.